What To Do After Getting A Raise

This is the year you finally got that raise! What should you do with the extra money?

Beyond the money, getting a raise is a rewarding recognition that the work you’re doing for your employer is valued. It means you’re on the right path in your career. This should be one of many such events in your life where your hard work and dedication finally pay off.

Let’s not overlook the money, though. This can be a real boon to your financial stability. You could look back a year from now and see how much better off you are with a little more budgetary breathing room. It’s also possible that the money can blow right through your checking account, leaving you worse off than you were before you got the raise.

The difference between these two outcomes is planning. If you don’t have a plan for your new income, it can be difficult to resist the impulse to spend lavishly because you “deserve” it. Making a plan to invest your new bounty responsibly will keep you honest and ensure you spend in ways that match your values. Here are three steps to making a plan for your post-raise finances.

1.) Stay off the treadmill

If you started from the bottom, you probably remember a time when you had little in the way of luxuries. You went to work, came home, ate whatever was cheap and went to bed. As you started to pull yourself up, you might have added the occasional luxury: better food, a nicer car, some entertainment or comfortable furniture. While the added luxury might have been a thrill at first, it probably soon became nothing more than the new normal.

This is what psychologists call the hedonic treadmill. With greater salary comes greater lifestyle expectations. It’s impossible to get ahead if you’re always chasing the life you think you “ought” to have.

In a sense, all you’re doing by getting a raise is turning up the speed on the treadmill. You’re not actually making more progress toward your goals. To do that, at any level of income, you need to spend prudently, not emotionally.

So, when your first paycheck comes in, avoid thinking about things you “deserve.” Try to keep your non-discretionary spending, or the amount of money you have to pay for basic goods and services, the same. If you want to take your family out to dinner to celebrate, that’s fine. If you want to buy a new luxury car to reflect your new status, that’s just running faster on the treadmill.

2.) Fix the basics

There are three very obvious places to put your newfound money: paying down debt, building an emergency fund and saving for retirement. If you don’t have an immediate plan for your new income, you could do much worse than putting your money in one of these three places. This isn’t a flashy way to spend your money, and it won’t make you happier in the short term. However, it will make your life easier in the long run.

Depending on the timing of your raise, you may need to make some paycheck adjustments. While you’re increasing your 401(k) contributions, you might also want to withhold a little extra in taxes. Your old withholding was done assuming you would earn your old salary all year. If you don’t bump up your withholding a little, you might end up with a nasty surprise at tax time. That’s another reason to make tax-deductible investments in your retirement accounts. You’ll get to keep more of your hard-earned raise!

3.) Save for your values

Getting a raise is a great time to pull out your dream list. What would you do if money was no object? Would you take a trip to Tahiti? Start a small business? Whatever your dream is, you probably need some capital to get it started.

Fortunately, you’re about to get some more capital each month thanks to your hard work. The best way to get to your “money’s no object” goals is to save a little bit each month. You can do that with the nice bonus offered by your raise. In the long run, you’ll be happier with the investment in your future than you will with the little luxuries you might be tempted to splurge on today.

Your Turn: We all want to make more money. What would you do with a little extra money each month? Let us know in the comments!

7 New Year’s Resolutions For A Richer 2017

The New Year is a great time of renewal. That makes it a good time to make bold, decisive changes in your life. Leave behind the baggage that was 2016 and start fresh with a blank slate in 2017. If you’re looking for some resolutions to improve your personal finances, we’re pleased to offer seven ways to make 2017 the year of the dollar!

1.) Track your spending

If you’re looking to take your first steps toward financial literacy, figuring out where your money goes should be at the top of your list. If you don’t know where your money goes, it’s going to be tough to follow through with any other money plans. You may have a general sense of how much you spend, but after a month where you’ve recorded every dollar, you’ll have a much better picture. Using apps like Mint or Personal Capital can automate the process. You might even find that keeping track of what you do with your money encourages you to spend a little more judiciously.

2.) Make a budget

About 70% of Americans live financially spontaneous lives. They don’t make a plan for spending or saving. When asked why they chose not to do so, the most common response was that the family spent all the money anyway. This is a circular problem. If you don’t have a budget that includes setting aside money for long-term expenses and savings, you’ll end up spending all your money on unplanned things and events. The best way to stop the cycle is to sit down and make a budget that modifies your spending to be more in line with your priorities.

3.) Get out of debt

Easier said than done, right? However, there’s no bigger stumbling block to financial security and wealth building than debt. It’s hard to save for long-term goals when so much of your monthly income gets eaten up by interest and fees. There are a variety of methods you can use to help accelerate your payoffs. For instance, you can add an extra $50 or $100 to your credit card payments. Or, you can focus all your payment resources on the highest interest debt until it’s paid off and then move it all to the next highest for snowballing your way to freedom from debt.

4.) Start an emergency fund

The best way to avoid going into debt is to have some money on hand to handle the occasional, yet inevitable, emergency. Most Americans, though, can’t come up with $500 in such instances. Set a specific goal, like adding $10 per month to a savings account. At the end of the year, you’ll have more than $100 available in case something goes wrong.

5.) Start a retirement account

You can’t save for what you don’t think about. When retirement is years or decades away, it’s difficult to incorporate thinking about it into your daily routine. If you have a retirement account open, you’ll get monthly statements, which serve as reminders. The challenge, though, is taking that first step. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. While there are important differences between Roth and Traditional accounts, either one is better than no retirement savings at all. If your job offers a 401(k) matching program, sign up to get at least the full matching funds amount – it’s free money. Do a little bit of research, then open the account that seems like the best idea.

6.) Automate your savings

Saving money takes willpower. Because it’s hard to practice self-denial on a constant basis, that extra $5 you’ve earmarked for savings can very easily turn into a mid-morning coffee. Fighting that impulse is a constant struggle. That’s why it’s easiest to avoid the decision altogether. Change your direct deposit to put some of your paycheck directly into a savings account, where you won’t even think of spending it impulsively.

7.) Get educated

Knowledge is power, and that’s especially true in the world of personal finance. What you know about your money goes a long way toward determining how much of it you get to keep. There’s a lot to learn, but you’ve got a wealth of information at your fingertips. Resolve to read one personal finance article a week (subscribing to this Blog can be a great start). Not only will this give you good ideas for improving your personal financial situation; you’ll also spend more time thinking about your money. That will lead to positive results down the line!

Happy New Year from all of us at Destinations Credit Union. We hope you have a safe, happy, and prosperous 2017!

Your Turn: What resolutions are you making this year? Will 2017 be the year you join a book club, quit smoking or spend more time with your family? Let us know in the comments!.

Help! I Overspent On Christmas!

It’s so easy to go overboard on Christmas. If you have kids, you want everything to be perfect for them. You want to build priceless memories, so spending any amount seems worth it. If you’re just getting started, you want to impress your family with how together you have things. Giving extravagant gifts to your family members seems like a great idea … until you’re staring at a huge credit card bill in January.

However it happened, it’s important to approach this problem rationally. Constantly blaming yourself won’t fix the problem. The important part now is to right yourself financially. You can’t take back gifts and return them at this point. You have to deal with the situation that’s in front of you.

Fortunately, you’re not alone. Destinations Credit Union is here to help. Check out these four ways you can patch up your finances and have things right before summer.

1.) Budgeting advice

It can be very tempting to make only the minimum payments on the credit card you used to buy Christmas. Unfortunately, it’s also the best way to ensure you’re in debt for all the Christmases from here on out.

Making minimum payments on credit cards prolongs the length of time you’re in debt. It also makes the total amount you pay for your debt skyrocket. Making just the minimum payment adds an extra $175 to a $10,000 balance at 21% APR.

What you need is an aggressive debt repayment plan. The question you should be asking yourself isn’t, “What’s the least I can pay on this debt?” Instead, identify the most you can afford to pay. Destinations Credit Union can help with informative guides and worksheets on household budgeting.

Making an extreme budget is usually not a good choice, but in this case, it’s essential until you get yourself out from under that holiday-fueled debt. Make some sacrifices and get ready to tighten your belt for a little while. Yeah, coming up with an extra $35 or $50 a month is tough, but it’s the easiest way to get things moving.

2.) Refinancing major purchases

If you went overboard on one or two major purchases, like a car for a teen, it may not be credit card debt you need help overcoming. Slick dealers offer crazy-sounding incentives like zero down and zero percent financing on cars to entice people to give cars for Christmas. Unfortunately, once you’ve signed on the dotted line, you may see you’re in for more than you can handle with a car payment.

Destinations Credit Union can help. Our auto and other major purchase loans often feature rates that are better than dealerships. You may need to finance over a longer term to manage the monthly expenses, or you may just need to restructure to pay less now. Either way, you’ll find more favorable and flexible terms with us than you will at the dealer. 

3.) Debt counseling 
Does reading those credit card statements fill you with a dizzying sense of despair? Destinations Credit Union can help you make sense of them.

Make an appointment to speak with a debt counselor.  Through our partnership with Accel, Destinations Credit Union offers free unlimited debt counseling. You’ll gain a better understanding of your rights and responsibilities. You can also come up with a realistic plan to pay off your debt and avoid falling into the same trap next year.

4.) Personal loans

Instead of making dozens of minimum payments, wouldn’t it be nice to focus your debt into one manageable plan? A debt consolidation loan can do just that. Best of all, it can save you money in the long run by lowering your interest rate and monthly payment commitment. Rather than paying a credit card APR, you can get the low fixed rate on a personal loan.

Although collateral, or something to secure the loan, can help get you a lower interest rate, it isn’t necessary. All you need is some basic personal information and a willing partner, like Destinations Credit Union. Our loan specialists can help you organize and simplify your payments, working toward a debt-free life.

Your Turn: Feeling buyer’s remorse after a big holiday spending spree? Let us know about it in the comments. If you’ve got a system to stay on budget, help your fellow members and share your wisdom!

How Not To Bust Your Holiday Budget

The holiday shopping season is in full swing. The malls are packed with eager shoppers. Offers and promotions are coming from clothing stores, electronics retailers and other shopping sites. They’re probably flooding your inbox, and your physical mailbox is getting overloaded with catalogs from shops you haven’t bought anything from in years, if ever. 

If you’re wondering how you’re going to pay for this frenzy of shopping while keeping your checking account in the black, you’re not alone. According a T. Rowe Price survey, more than half of parents will aim to get everything on their kids’ wish lists this year, spending an average of $422 per child. 

Many of these parents will be paying for these gifts for months, or even years, afterward. But what’s a busted budget next to holiday cheer, right? 

Of course, before approaching any large-cost event, it’s smart to create a budget. Unfortunately, 58% of the parents surveyed admitted that they thought they had created a budget, but didn’t stick to it. Nearly two-thirds admit they spend more than they can afford. The Sym’s clothing-store chain was famous for its tagline: An educated consumer is our best customer. Take a page out of their book and become an educated shopper this holiday season. It will empower you to make informed decisions about your spending before you hit the shops.

Short-term effects

Tipping your budget just a bit every once in a while isn’t a disaster. You can plan to spend less the next month or pay off your debt with an expected surplus of funds. But the spending hangover some parents can face from their holiday shopping is too large to be easily forgotten.

Over half the parents surveyed will pay for their holiday gifts with credit cards. Just 61% of them plan to pay off their spending within three months, and 16% say they will pay it off over the course of six months or more. That’s half a year spent catching up on holiday spending!

Think carefully this shopping season before you drop another item into your cart. Is this gift really worth trimming your budget for the next three – or six – months?

Long-lasting effects

Even more alarming than paying off holiday debt for half a year is the one-quarter of the parents who have taken extreme measures to fund their purchases: 11% have used money from their retirement accounts, 14% have taken funds out of their emergency savings and 11% have taken out a payday loan.

While their kids may be delighted with their loot, parents can be paying for it for longer than they think.

Taking $500 out of a 401(k) at age 35 translates into giving up $6,000 that was earmarked for retirement. Parents are forking out additional taxes and penalties to gain access to the money, and are also losing the opportunity for that money to grow.

Your kids may be thrilled that you’re thinking of the here and now, but you’ll pay the price for living in the moment sometime in the future. Make sure each purchase is justified and worth paying off over the long term.

Life Lessons

There’s nothing quite as exciting as unwrapping a present. There’s the thrill of the unknown, of guessing what lies under the colorful wrapping paper, and the delighted whoop when the surprise is something you’ve been hoping to receive.

And this thrill is intensified in children. Kids wait all year for that moment of ripping open their gifts, and as their parents, you want to make them happy. This is why 60% of the parents surveyed claimed they will try to check off every single item on their child’s wish list.
But giving in to all their demands does nobody any favors.
Aside from the financial drain, purchasing every gift your kids have their hearts set on teaches them a host of lessons they’re better off without. Childhood is the time to create lifetime habits and mindsets. Do you really want your kids thinking they can always have everything they want? Do you want them to feel that everything they own must always be the best and most expensive?

Of course, this doesn’t mean skipping all or most of the items on your kids’ lists. But try to trim down where possible. Whether it’s a new toy, electronic device or even their own car; teaching your kids to be happy with a cheaper version, or to forgo one or more items on the list, will be a lesson they will carry for life.

This holiday season, teach your kids that true happiness can’t be bought.

Be proactive

You can beat the budget-busting this season by saving up for the holiday season throughout the year. While it may be too late for this year, it’s never too early to start thinking about next season! Just a little bit of money put aside each month can take you through the holiday season without any long-lasting scars. Sign up for our holiday club accounts, if you haven’t already done so.

Be an informed shopper this holiday season and your decisions will pay off in more ways than one.

Your Turn: How will you fund your holiday spending? Do you plan to buy your kids everything on their lists? Why or why not?

Stay Safe From These AirBNB Scams

Going on vacation should mean more than waking up in a different bed. It should also mean getting to see and know a place more like a local does. That’s part of the appeal behind room-sharing sites like the incredibly popular AirBNB. AirBNB lets anyone with a spare room become a host. As a guest, you can stay with a local and get a real sense of what a location is all about. Also, you can save quite a bit of money! 

However, the system is based on trust. Any time there’s trust, there’s some opportunistic crook waiting to make a quick buck by exploiting it. That’s certainly been the case with AirBNB. The Australian Better Business Bureau reported a six-fold increase in scams related to the room-sharing service in 2016. The service recently expanded its offerings, allowing users to book independently-run guided tours or experiences in addition to rooms, and this expansion has been part of the drive behind the increase. Before you book at AirBNB, make sure you keep yourself safe from these scams!

1.) Fake websites
An AirBNB host you were interested in sends you an email to check out a few other properties they have for rent. These properties come complete with reviews, official logos and other hallmarks of authenticity. There’s even a live chat service reassuring you that everything’s official and on the level. So, you think nothing of wiring a fee to reserve your room.
Everything’s fine until you go to confirm your reservation with AirBNB. They have no record of your transaction and don’t even have the properties listed. What happened?
A scammer capitalized on your trust by directing you to a fake booking website that’s not hosted by AirBNB. These groups go to extreme lengths to create accurate reproductions of the official site and have even fooled several veteran AirBNB users.
There are two ways to avoid this tactic. First, always check the URLs of sites you visit. Make sure you’re visiting a site where the word AirBNB occurs right next to the .com. If there are words between the two, you may be visiting a phony site! Second, only pay through AirBNB’s official checkout platform. They use modern encryption technology to keep your financial information safe. It’s a whole lot more secure than paying outside the system.
2.) Phony excursions
A new feature of AirBNB is the ability to book “experiences,” or days out on the town with locals. The site claims to be encouraging entrepreneurs by bringing in new clients for small businesses. For example, one Los Angeles resident offers pottery classes and guided meditation retreats for visitors. Another Sydney, Australia AirBNB user offers yoga retreats for guests.
While the expanded line of services is likely a boon to many small business owners, it also creates a new opportunity for scammers. Instead of needing a real property to hook potential victims, scammers can offer phony tours. While the company vets the potential tours carefully, it’s difficult for one company to monitor a distributed network of service providers.
Experiences are a behind-the-scenes look at a city and may appeal to many visitors. However, it’s always worth proceeding with caution. This service is new and experimental. Always check reviews (on a legitimate AirBNB site) before agreeing to pay for anything!
3.) External payment
AirBNB charges a 3% commission on all bookings done through the website. This may encourage some enterprising landlords to offer a discount in exchange for direct payment through a third-party processing site. Travelers on a tight budget might be tempted to save a few bucks this way. Those travelers would be shocked to find themselves out of luck when they get to their destination.
Resist the temptation. Payments outside the website don’t have any conflict resolution procedures, so there’s no guarantee you’ll have a room at all if you use one. AirBNB earns its 3% by mediating disputes between renters and hosts, so there’s a good reason to use the website’s services.
Also, no legitimate business will ask you to wire funds directly to their account. Given the prevalence of services like Square and PayPal, even the smallest business has the capacity to accept credit or debit cards. When you use a card, you have some recourse if your transaction goes wrong for some reason. After you wire money, it’s gone. Always insist on using a secured form of payment. If your host won’t go along, just walk away.
Your Turn: Have you ever used AirBNB or a similar service? What was your experience like? Share safety and savings tips with us in the comments!

How To Be The Host With The Most Without Draining Your Account

Hosting a holiday meal is one of the stressful parts of any holiday. Sure, it’s great to help everyone get together under one roof as part of a fantastic tradition. On the other, though, feeding many people can put a serious strain on your budget. With holiday gifts to buy, a strain like that really can’t come at a worse time! 

Fortunately, it’s possible to be a great host and a great saver at the same time. It’s not easy, but you can put on a great holiday meal without breaking the budget. Try these 3 handy tips to save this year!

1.) Plan
If there’s a law written in a personal finance stone tablet, it’s “always make a plan.” It doesn’t need to be detailed, but it should identify your needs for a project and how you intend to meet them. For a meal, that should include both what you intend to put on the table and anything else you need to make your guests comfortable.
Obviously, the earlier you start making your plan, the better off you’ll be. Having a plan in place lets you take advantage of the rotating grocery specials. You can incorporate more seasonal produce, meaning you’ll cook a better tasting and more nutritious meal at a better price. The plan also lets you make a budget for your holiday meal spending while not having to put big shopping trips on credit cards. The memories of a wonderful family meal should stick around for years; a debt to pay for it all should not!
2.) Delegate
The sheer volume of tasks that go along with hosting a holiday meal can quickly get overwhelming. Beyond the meal, you need to clean and tidy up, decorate, and make sure your house is stocked with essentials, like hand soap and toilet paper. Even listing all the steps involved can get exhausting!
That’s why it’s important to recognize the tasks that need your individual attention and separate them from the tasks that can be done by someone else. While you may be doing most of the cooking, outsource the meal planning to a family member. Give them the guest list and ask them to help you come up with recipes that will satisfy the crowd. You can also get kids involved in making and placing decorations, which may help get them in the holiday spirit as well. While it’s likely too imposing to ask guests to bring toiletries as part of a potluck, you may be able to fold that shopping into your ordinary shopping and avoid extra last-minute trips.
By delegating responsibilities, you make the task of putting together a wonderful time more manageable. This decreases the temptation to find a quick, easy and potentially expensive, solution at the last minute. Budgets tend to explode most often when there’s a serious time or energy crunch. Avoid that crunch by getting help wherever you can.
3.) Substitute
While everyone loves a nice holiday roast, cuts of beef big enough to serve an entire family can easily cost $200 or more. Instead, look for seasonal specialties, like spiral cut ham. You can also get good prices on turkey breast or whole chicken, both of which can easily feed an army without draining your checking account. If you have the time, slow-cooking cheap cuts of pork (belly or shoulder) can make ham or bacon that’s tastier than what you get at the supermarket, but for a lower price. It will cure in the fridge for several days, and then needs to be cooked. A smoker is best for this process, but a standard grill can work in a pinch.
You can use the same home cooking ingenuity to save on side dishes. One of the best ways to feed lots of people without breaking the bank is to use root vegetables, which are cheap and filling. Rubbing parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes or carrots with salt and pepper before throwing them in the oven for 40 minutes on medium heat can turn ordinary produce into delicious sides. Serve these instead of more expensive, less nutritious, canned or frozen vegetables.
Finally, don’t forget to substitute other people’s cooking for your own. Guests like to feel included in the preparation process. Ask your guests to bring desserts or sides, while you focus on getting your main dishes ready. This will save you both time and money.
Don’t forget that the best things about the holiday are free. Time spent with friends and family, telling stories and making memories, is more important than how much food you put on the table. Your guests will remember the shared experience of the holidays more than what was on their plates, so focus on being gracious and calm while making your guests feel welcome.
Happy holidays!
Your Turn: What’s your best holiday budget survival tip? Do you have any go-to tips or tricks that saves on costs? Let us know how you host with the most (without spending the most) in the comments!